One in five Americans vulnerable to foodborne illness, review finds

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Foodborne illness Immune system

As many as one in five Americans are particularly susceptible to foodborne illness due to age or conditions that weaken the immune system, according to a new study published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease.

Although health officials are well aware that foodborne illness outbreaks tend to disproportionately affect the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, diabetics and others with weakened immune systems, this latest paper​ sought to quantify the additional risks to these groups – and to provide recommendations on how to deal with them.

“The nature and use of low microbial diets to reduce the risk of foodborne disease in immune-compromised patients are very variable,” ​the authors wrote. “Diets for vulnerable people in care should exclude higher risk foods, and vulnerable people in the community should receive clear advice about food safety, in particular avoidance of higher-risk foods and substitution of safer, nutritious foods.”

The paper reviewed a range of studies from the United States, the United Kingdom and other developed countries, and concluded that in the US and the UK, 15-20% of the population is considered vulnerable to foodborne illness.

Vulnerability to foodborne illness outbreaks means that fewer foodborne or waterborne pathogens are needed to cause disease, and can lead to more severe illness.

The authors’ list of higher risk foods includes raw and undercooked meat and poultry, undercooked or precooked seafood, unpasteurized milk and cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, products containing raw eggs, raw sprouts and unwashed vegetables, luncheon meats that have not been reheated, and unpasteurized, refrigerated pâtés.

They stress the importance of ensuring the safety of foods intended for vulnerable populations, as well as educating these groups about how to minimize risks.

“Ensuring the microbiological safety of food for vulnerable groups and providing advice about high-risk foods and food safety are essential to minimize foodborne infections,”​ they wrote.

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